Tuesday, April 23, 2024

GISD-Sheriff’s Office intern partnership could become model program

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An unusual new Granbury ISD internship program might help students go immediately into law enforcement after graduation, but there is a chance it will have an even bigger, more far-reaching impact.

The partnership between GISD and the Hood County Sheriff’s Office could become a model program for other law enforcement agencies and school districts.

The internships are for Granbury High School seniors taking classes under teacher Sonya Byrd in the Career and Technical Education program’s Law and Public Safety career pathway.

Thirteen students are participating.

The Hyde Law Firm, where Tryniti Barks and Braiden Womack are interning, has had apprentices before, but the Sheriff’s Office component is new. It launched this year, thanks to the cooperation of Sheriff Roger Deeds, Jail Administrator Eric Turbeville and Dispatch Supervisor Shawn McGuire.

Perhaps the most unusual aspect of the SO internships is that four students — Alyssa Callaham, Julissa Hernandez, Jacob Rasmussen and Kelsie Sklark — are working in the high-stress arena of 911 dispatch.

They aren’t handling calls related to life-or-death emergencies. Only experienced dispatchers do that.

However, the students are learning through observation and through instruction on the mapping system and large computer monitors. They are also assisting with administrative-type calls such as those involving animals on the loose.

Since the minimum age for dispatchers is 18, the training they are receiving could lead to jobs immediately after high school, which could help the SO with staffing challenges.

And since the minimum age for peace officers is 21, taking a job as a dispatcher at 18 would allow fresh graduates to begin gaining experience in law enforcement and building their retirement fund while waiting to attend the police academy.

Four other interns are also currently working within the Sheriff’s Office. Three — Yolet Estrada, Grace Hill, and Joseph Puig — are assisting in the booking area of the Hood County Jail.

One intern, Breanna Cozart, is working under the supervision of Sgt. Kelly McNab at Animal Control. 

MODEL PROGRAM

Tyler Brown, an assistant 911 dispatch supervisor, is the reason the program may ultimately be expanded beyond Hood County.

Brown is working on a master’s degree and on becoming a Registered Public-Safety Leader, or RPL, through APCO International. The acronym stands for Institute Registry of Public-Safety Leaders.

For his project assignment, Brown chose to work with the Texas Commission on Law Enforcement and Texas Essential Knowledge and Skills to create a pathway for students who successfully complete internships to be able to immediately sit for a licensing exam “and go straight into employment” upon graduation.

Brown said that once this inaugural school year is over, he will give a presentation to North Central Texas 911 in hopes that more law enforcement agencies and school districts will partner on similar programs.

TCOLE must approve the idea, but Brown thinks it will likely happen.

“We’ve done it with the EMT program before so you can become an EMT straight out of high school, so it’s just a matter of getting TCOLE on board with that,” he said. “We have such a shortage of applicants, to be able to take somebody straight out of high school and put them in, like, for here we’d be able to count their year (of interning) for a part of their training, so we can move them straight on to the next phase of training.”

Dispatch Supervisor Shawn McGuire said that the Sheriff’s Office began last year “trying to figure out the kinks and how we can legally do it.”

He said that the SO worked with the North Central Texas Council of Governments during the planning process and conducted background checks on students who wanted to participate. Parental permission was involved.

“There’s always one of us with two of them, so if they have questions, we are there to help them,” he said of the students working in 911 dispatch.

Deeds said he liked the idea of the internship program when he first heard it and is glad that it exposes students to various aspects of the department.

“Our workforce has been shrinking and this program expands it,” he said. “It has always been a great idea to work together with the schools to keep everyone on the same page.”

Callaham, who wants to work as a paramedic while going to college to become a criminal psychologist, has a new appreciation for dispatchers because of her internship.

“They should definitely be highlighted a lot more because a lot of people don’t realize that without them, police, fire, EMS, they wouldn’t know what to do and where to go,” she said. “And a lot of people also don’t realize that dispatchers, they do way more than just talk on the radio and talk on the phone. They’re like little investigators and they’re extremely high-skilled people that can do a lot of stuff.”

Sklark, who, like Callaham is 17, said she loves having the opportunity to work in the call center where dispatchers do more than take calls.

“I’m really glad that Ms. Byrd (was) able to give us opportunities to be a part of it because I just feel like it’s something that not a lot of people get to see, especially the dispatch part,” she said. 

COMMUNITY PITCHES IN

Byrd wanted a way for her students to become involved in law enforcement and she shared that desire with McGuire and Turbeville, who spoke to her classes last year.

“We were able to go over there and do some classes with the high school and kind of let them know what goes on within our departments, dispatch to the jail,” Turbeville said. “We were there all day long and talked to all of her classes about the career opportunities after high school because you can be 18 working in the jail, you can be 18 working in dispatch. I know a lot of individuals that may be wanting to be police officers and stuff, but you can’t until you’re 21. So, a great way to put your foot in the door is with corrections or with telecommunicators.”

So far, the program has been “really great,” he said.

Security is similar to law enforcement, and GHS Security Director Wade Clark and his staff have pitched in on the internship effort by taking on Abigail Gibson, Tanner Kertz and Hunter Weis, showing them what it takes to keep a campus safe.

Clark said the three are being taught camera monitoring skills and are working with security staff at guard shacks. They are also walking the parking lot to check for unauthorized vehicles and are performing door checks.

“We do what we can to help where we can and to try and make a difference for kids,” Clark said. “Because, at the end of the day, that’s what it’s all about.”

“You cannot say enough about the mentors in all of these areas,” Byrd said. “These kids are just excelling at what they do.”

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